Evangelism by Search Engine – Part 1 - The Mission
Posted by Bill Anderton
The Internet is a very large and far-flung space connecting people with people and people with information; billions of people and zettabytes of information.
One of the key technologies that allows such a large “pile” of people and information to NOT collapse of its own enormous weight are search engines. Type in a query, click and up pops ranked lists of pages in websites that answer your query. Within a fraction of a second, search engines locate, with a remarkable degree of accuracy, specifically what you are looking for from their indexes of a very large chunk of the global Internet; it is an incredible feat of information engineering.
Globally, search engines are used about 4-million times a minute, every minute of the day; that is almost 6-billion searches every day!
Further, we know from research like the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s “Faith Online” that nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons.
Search engines match up people seeking something about faith with the information that is stored on the Internet. In other words, we have a really big bunch of people proactively searching for something about faith among a really big bunch of information that search engines can sift through, accurately, in milliseconds.
Plus, we are compelled in numerous places in the New Testament to tell the good news whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself.
It seems like scripture and technology presents a pretty compelling case to use search engines for telling an evangelical message; to use the Internet culture to share the gospel with people who are already searching for something related to faith.
Evangelism by search engine!
This week, I will be writing about, “Evangelism by Search Engines” in a multi-part series of blog postings about how churches might use these powerful tools in ministry and evangelism.
In today’s first installment of this series, I’m going to build the case for doing “Evangelism by Search Engine.” I think you will find it interesting not only as a strategy and tactic for your church’s Internet assets but also as a compelling mission.
In many areas of online ministry, there is a high degree of correlation between the capabilities of technology and the mission of the church; this is one of those areas.
Before I begin building my case, I need to ask for you indulgence. In this special-interest community, a large percentage of the members are clergy. As an information scientist and layman, I feel a bit inadequate, among my learned clergy colleagues here, to write about spiritual or scriptural matters. There are many members of this community far more capable than I to discuss scripture, and I hope you do in the comments section of each posting. However, I can’t talk about online ministries without writing about these things, so please bear with me; my cause is just.
Evangelism can be generally defined as (1) the preaching of the Christian Gospel; or (2) the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others with the object of conversion.
In Mathew 28:19-20, Jesus gives us the Great Commission, the command to go into all nations and preach the gospel.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (NRSV)
Further, the New Testament urges all believers to speak the gospel clearly, fearlessly, graciously, and respectfully whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself.
For additional citations, I present a partial list below (all citations are NRSV):
15 And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
Matthew 4:18-19 (Jesus' First words to His Disciples were about Evangelism)
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’
Acts 1:8-9 (Jesus' Last words to His Disciples were about Evangelism)
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
2 Corinthians 5:18, 20
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.'
35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.
13 For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, 4 so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
5 Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
1 Peter 3:15-16a
15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
In addition to the list above, I also use as an example Paul, in Acts 17, where for the sake of the gospel, Paul addresses the Athenians in the Areopagus using their own language and their culture thus taking himself out of his own context and his rabbinic culture. Said another way, Paul didn't engage people on the church’s terms, he engaged people on their terms. Paul had confidence that the gospel was so important that it must be shared.
Can we not (should we not) apply Paul’s example to the Internet as well? Don’t Paul’s example and the scripture references compel us to use the opportunities presented by the Internet to tell the story (euangelion) using its own culture?
If not for scriptural reasons alone, aren’t there also worldly reasons that we should want to harness these capabilities for the betterment of our church institutions? While not suggesting we do, even if we didn’t consider these scripture citations first (as we should), wouldn’t we want to serve these type of searcher-visitors as prime and special visitors? After all, these are people who are seeking us out, walking into our virtual front door and saying, “Can you help me?” These are visitors that we didn't have to seek out, they came to us! We didn’t have to market or advertise for them; they came to us. We didn’t have to knock on their door; they knocked on ours.
By the very search vector that brought them to our front door means that they are searching for something. As a result, they not only show up in our virtual spaces wearing a big red badge that self-declares themselves as seekers, the technology of the web identifies exactly what they are looking for by the search terms they used to find us and what they are seeking.
In my opinion, we also have to take note that the very fact that they walked through our virtual front door and not one of the many others that the search engine’s results pages presented. They selected our door to walk through. As a simple courtesy (again, even if we are not considering our New Testament admonitions), we have some obligation to try and help them.
I simply cannot conceive of a scenario where I would want these visitors, in large numbers, and where I wouldn’t go out of my way to serve them well. The term “low-hanging fruit” comes immediately to mind; it doesn’t take much effort to reach up and harvest the bounty being presented to us.
So, we have both New Testament admonitions to practice euangelion with these types of visitors plus we have all sorts of practical reasons to considered these visitors as premium opportunities.
I hope that I have made the case for using Evangelism by Search Engine. In the remainder of this series in the coming days I will be writing about to use these search engine powerful tools in ministry and evangelism.
Category: (04-13) April 2013 Tag:
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